Speaking Up for Unheard Voices

Naomi Wadler is fighting to get attention for all activists

The Inspiration: In February 2018, Naomi Wadler was horrified by the news of a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Like students across the country, Naomi, then 11, wanted to do something to protest gun violence. Then her mom showed her a small article about Courtlin Arrington, an African American high school student in Birmingham, Alabama, who’d recently been fatally shot. “The article didn’t really get any attention, and that sparked something in my mind,” Naomi says. She decided her protest should have an even bigger message—one that would raise awareness of the African American girls and women too often left out of the headlines about gun violence.

The Action: Naomi and her friend Carter Anderson staged a walkout at their elementary school in Alexandria, Virginia, to commemorate the onemonth anniversary of the Parkland shooting. Like students at many other schools, Naomi, Carter, and more than 60 other students silently protested for 17 minutes: one minute for each victim of the shooting. But Naomi and her classmates extended their protest, adding an extra minute for Courtlin.

After the 18-minute protest attracted news coverage, Naomi was invited to speak at the March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C. “I am here today to represent the African American girls whose stories don’t make the front page of every national newspaper,” Naomi said, dedicating her speech to “victims of gun violence who are simply statistics instead of vibrant, beautiful girls full of potential.”

Naomi Wadler
Watch Naomi’s speech at the March for Our Lives rally in Washington.

The Outcome: Naomi’s speech went viral, and she’s since appeared on talk shows and magazine covers. This January, she was part of an international group of teen activists invited to the World Economic Forum’s conference in Davos, Switzerland, where business leaders and politicians gather to discuss international issues. News coverage of the event exemplified the problem of underrepresentation Naomi continues to fight: Vanessa Nakate, a black climate activist from Uganda, was cropped out of a photo by the Associated Press, leaving four white activists in the image (see “Act Now!” on p. 24). “I know what it’s like to . . . watch as our people are silenced,” Naomi tweeted, adding, “black girls are not heard.”

Today, Naomi advocates for underrepresented activists such as African American clean drinking water advocate Mari Copeny of Flint, Michigan. But her ultimate goal is to bring attention to all people whose stories are unheard. “I think what my message has evolved into,” she says, “is, ‘how can I give voice to those who can’t speak for themselves?’”

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